Terry Hébert

Professor, Pharmacology and Therapeutics

Q: How do you perceive the relationship between academic writing and critical thinking?

A: In my mind, the two are inextricably linked. I have written a lot of papers. Nothing clarifies my understanding of my own work better than writing out my ideas. In writing, data gets translated into results and results get translated into a coherent narrative. Writing is the best way I know of to frame out a hypothesis and the most effective means to connect a hypothesis into what the best experiments to test it might be. For no other reason, students should write down their ideas often, and continue writing about them as they develop. As much as the activity of writing is crucial to developing and understanding my own academic work, it is equally important for developing an understanding of, and thinking critically about, the literature. Writing helps me connect different papers and analyze them collectively rather than simply thinking about them on their own. I guess that is my advice to you then … write about what you read, what you do and what you want to do. It doesn’t have to be perfect the first time, writing is an iterative process. For me, writing crystallizes and focuses critical thinking, and lays down the mental tracks for a life of reasoned understanding. It develops a necessary part of the intellectual skillset. It doesn’t matter where you are on your educational journey—first-year undergraduate or seasoned graduate student. Start now and don’t stop.

Recommended resource:

Writing Symposium: The role of student writing at a research university